Apologies – I just couldn’t help myself. These are just some of the corny lyrics from the song “Delaware” written by Irving Gordon and sung by Perry Como and others. It came out in 1959 – dating myself I know – with puns involving 15 states. It just popped into my head as I started to write this blog about my 50/50/50 visit to Delaware which followed my visit to New Jersey. I can remember many of the silly lyrics from those many years ago. Now if I could only have remembered to take my tripod out of the overhead luggage bin on my flight from Boston to Nevada last week. Not fair…
When I started planning this trip several months ago, much of the route could have been chosen in a variety of ways and orders, but one part was clear. I would bird in Southern New Jersey in and around Cape May and then I would take the ferry from Cape May to Lewes, Delaware with the prime birding target being Bombay Hook NWR, like Cape May itself, another legendary birding spot I had not visited before. The two areas were almost like one in my mind and I will use that as the excuse for the lyrical reference.
Cape May, N.J. – Lewes, DE Ferry – 17 Miles 85 Minutes
I had originally reserved space on a mid-afternoon ferry figuring I might need or want more time at Cape May, but the birding there had gone well so I decided to try for an earlier ferry giving me more time in Delaware. The focus and framework for this adventure of mine is about the birds but so many of the best moments are about people – even little moments. One such was my interface with the attendant at the ferry toll booth. I had prepaid well in advance to be sure to have a space on the boat, not knowing what to expect traffic wise. Checking online, I knew there was room on the earlier ferry The hope was to just drive up early and be allowed to change. Not only was I able to get on the earlier ferry, I was able to get a partial refund as the original plan was for a second passenger and he was unable to join me. More meaningful to me was the great conversation with the attendant. She wanted to know about birding, Seattle, my travels etc. Granted there were no other cars waiting behind me, but this personal connection was really great – and I could understand every word even with her “Joisy” accent. A great start to the day.
Birds were relatively few and far between on the ferry crossing, but I did have some Northern Gannets, Herring and Laughing Gulls a good way to start a list. I had read about Prime hook NWR which was on the way to my hotel and had great birding there for about 90 minutes – with a good mix of shorebirds and passerines. My favorite shorebird was probably a very cooperative Solitary Sandpiper. A Blue Gray Gnatcatcher was my favorite passerine.
Blue Gray Gnatcatcher
I had 36 species there. With the few from the ferry and some incidentals (gotta track those Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows) along the way, I was pretty sure that I would have 50 species this day – again relieving pressure from the next day which is when I had expected to make the push. This was pretty much confirmed by the birds at my next stop, the DuPont Nature Center at Mispillion. There were lots of shorebirds and my first Boat Tailed Grackle of the trip. It was known as a great spot for Red Knots, but I had just missed the flock and got only a distant scope view of two birds. The flock I did see was a group of over 50 Ruddy Turnstones.
Boat Tailed Grackle
I was now over 50 species for Delaware and I had not even gotten to Bombay Hook NWR, my next stop. There I had 44 species with a great mix of gulls, terns, waders and some passerines pus lots of shorebirds including hundreds of Dunlin and Short Billed Dowitchers. A highlight was a photo of a Clapper Rail and another was a brief visual of two Seaside Sparrows. Interestingly Snowy Egrets outnumbered Great Egrets 25 to 5.
Dunlin – Just A Photo I like
I would return the next day, but I had 70 species for the day – so I was again a day ahead of schedule. The next morning I started birding at a small marshy area next to my hotel. The 10 species included the loudest Carolina Wren I had heard and that is saying a lot. Not unlike our Bewick’s Wren in Washington, this species has a wide ranging repertoire and I think I heard most of it.
My first official stop was the Abbott’s Mill Nature Center. Here were primarily passerines including a vociferous Orchard Oriole. It was the first decent look I had had of a male on the whole trip. Other good birds were Blue Grosbeak, Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher and Field Sparrow. I wanted to get back to the DuPont Nature Center to look for Red Knots. They were being seen at their go to place, Bottle Beach, in Washington but I might not get back in time to see them there.
The tide was better and so were the birds at DuPont compared to the previous day. The 25 species included 10 species of shorebird: 800 Ruddy Turnstones, 700 Dunlin, 14 Willets, 2 American Oystercatchers and 140 Red Knots among others.
Red Knots and Others
The shorebird spectacle was great but the highlight came from a marshy field as I was leaving. From both sides of the road I heard the unmistakable buzzy insect like song of the Seaside Sparrow. My only picture of one was from Alabama last year. It was near the top of “Pictures I Most Want to Improve” list. They hid at first and then several came into the open singling away from atop the grass. Now these were good photos. I reported 10 individuals on Ebird, but I only covered a fraction of the good habitat and there were certainly many, many more
I returned to Bombay Hook NWR and again had great birding with 48 species in almost 3 hours. Ten shorebird species with a surprising almost 100 Semipalmated Plovers and 25 Black Bellied Plovers.
It had been another great day in the smallest of the States. Over 70 species for the day and 87 for the State all told. A last observation was of an emaciated looking Red Fox. The previous day I had seen what had appeared to be an abandoned Red Fox Kit sitting on the side of the road in no fear of or perhaps oblivious to the cars that stopped for photos – including mine. I wondered if the two were related.
Red Fox Kit
Now it was time to head to Pennsylvania.